Friday 24 March 2017

Powers hit out at Oxx claims

Johnny Ward

PADDY POWER have hit back at John Oxx after his uncharacteristically strong-worded outburst against the company.

Oxx attended a Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting on Wednesday, along with a scatter of figures from the betting industry, TDs, Senators and Horseracing Ireland personnel. Normally an embodiment of calm, the Curragh handler took umbrage at comments made by Patrick Kennedy, Paddy Power CEO.

Kennedy dismissed the oft-repeated boast that Irish racing is world-class, adding furthermore that the company did not need it to survive. It did not go down well with Oxx, who wrote to the Racing Post, castigating Kennedy for "never missing an opportunity to undermine Irish racing."

However, the company's representative of the same name has defended his CEO.

"Horse breeding and training in Ireland is world-class and Paddy Power is one of its biggest fans; however, we're not so sure about racing facilities in Ireland. In the last 10 years the HRI has received Government grants of €540 million and yet attendance per race meeting is down 30 per cent.

"HRI should stop hiding behind the success of the breeding and training industries as it seeks even more funding from the State."

It will be fascinating to see what the present government -- riddled as it is with endless problems of greater magnitude -- comes up with to help solve the challenges facing Irish racing.

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THERE was some good news last week when The Curragh secured a five-year sponsorship with the Emirates Equestrian Federation.

The Abu Dhabi-based body will sponsor both Guineas races and, for the first time since 2003, there will be a race for Arab-bred horses run in Ireland. Indeed, the track's commercial manager Evan Arkwright lamented: "We'll probably get more international runners for the Arab race than the actual Guineas races."

Remarkably, with the exception of the St Leger, all of Ireland's Classics are now backed by a sponsor with roots in the United Arab Emirates. Arkwright admitted that he was somewhat disappointed with the underwhelming press coverage of the deal's announcement.

The EEF was established in 1992 by present UAE president and Abu Dhabi emir, Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Though nowhere near as influential as the Maktoum brothers in international racing, this sponsorship reflects his interest in further advertising the Arab thoroughbred in Europe.

"There's an enormously strong connection between Irish people and the UAE. They have great respect for the Irish over there and I think that's partly why they like doing business over here," said Arkwright.

The press release issued to promote the sponsorship stressed the inherent values of Abu Dhabi. The city, it said, "has resisted the urge to flaunt its prosperity" -- a possible dig at the country's capital.

* * * * *

LAST year, some would have predicted that Setanta would have withered away by now, yet Ireland's sports channel is fighting on and recently launched its betting website.

Setantabet.com's arrival just before Cheltenham came as a surprise to those who took any notice of its deliberately low-key launch. However, according to its business development manager Brendan Higgins, the new venture is already making money.

That would have much to do with the company's payroll being bereft of a single odds-compiler. Setantabet, which will bid to lure new account holders with a free bet of €20 and the offer of six each-way places for the Aintree Grand National, will soon offer live in-running markets too.

"All our odds are automated, it's all done by software," said Higgins. The Malta-based Oddsmatrix feeds its odds to Setantabet, which in essence was formed to accompany Setanta's channels, a la Skybet.

Higgins added that the new betting firm was hoping to have attracted a relatively modest 6,000 customers by the end of the year. "There is very little cost, apart from a small bit of marketing spend."

Things are looking up for Setanta, though they will lose their Magners League coverage next season, a blow the extent of which we will not know until then.

* * * * *

FAIRYHOUSE'S cracking Grand National festival commences with a very well-contested card this afternoon. The ground will be extremely testing so form students will put their faith in horses with strong staying power, even on this relatively easy track.

The feature Grade One Powers Gold Cup will test Zaarito's stamina and he may opposable in the circumstances, with Shakervilz a solid alternative. The Grade Two Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Novice Hurdle is a cracking contest in which Blackstairmountain takes a step down in class after being found wanting in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last month.

He can prove another winner for Mullins and Ruby Walsh, but Premier Victory may upset the pair in the mares' novices' hurdle. Tom Hogan's mare is much better than her Cheltenham effort and has every chance on overall form.

Sunday Independent

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